Attention trumps experience

It’s always bemused me that I did better in electronic engineering than computer science.

I studied them simultaneously, receiving degrees in both after five years (some classes counted towards both, thus why it wasn’t seven or eight years).

I grew up playing on, dabbling with, and programming computers. From BASIC II to Hypercard to RealBasic and onwards. I don’t recall ever questioning the apparent inevitability of going to university to study computer science, and then into a permanent career in software development. It was as if I were born to it.

In contrast, I chose to do electronic engineering basically on a whim, while I was choosing my university course. I had effectively zero background in it. It just looked interesting.

Though I observed the curious results – the unexpected inversion in my academic grades – it took me quite a while to learn the lesson. I did better in EE despite my inexperience because I paid attention. It was interesting and I knew I was starting from scratch there, so I worked hard at it. I gave it more time.

I’ve increasingly appreciated the importance of this as I’ve gathered other life anecdotes. Why does the new hire straight out of school often do a better job than the senior engineer? Why do “fresh eyes” on a long troublesome area of the project suddenly find all sorts of bugs and flaws that had been overlooked?